Tuesday, October 30, 2007

After Punjab, Haryana, now bride buying catches on in UP

Tarannum Manjul
Posted online: Tuesday , October 30, 2007 at 12:00:00

Shahjahanpur, October 29 * Anita hails from a small village in Orissa. Five years ago, she was bought to village Shahganj in the Bhawaal Kheda block of district Shahjahanpur and sold off as a “wife” to Mahindar, a Pasi by caste, for Rs 7,500. Two children later, Anita still cannot talk to her “husband”, as she hardly understands his language. Moreover, the village does not consider her to be his wife.

* Meera Devi hails from Bihar. Rajiv, a Baniya, bought her for a mere Rs 8,000 two and a half years ago. So far, she hasn’t been able to conceive and Rajiv’s family feels they have wasted money on her.

If you thought the devil of buying brides has infected the states of Haryana and Punjab only, this might come as an eye-opener. In a district where the urban sex ratio is the lowest in the country at 678/1,000 and where the largest tehsil has a sex ratio of 535/1,000, the system of bride buying has become quite rampant in the last five years. Shahjahanpur’s block Bhawaal Kheda has several villages where, due to the low sex ratio, men have been buying brides from states like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. The price is anything between Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000.

Shahganj is one such village with a population of around 250 families. At least 60 per cent of the families here have bought “wives” from other states. And the trend, which started around five years ago, is still going strong. “We have been forced to buy brides from other states because there are hardly any women in our villages. The number of girls is really low in this region,” revealed the village pradhan, Lalaram.

Incidentally, a survey has revealed that bride buying cuts across barriers of caste and religion. Whether it is the Brahmins, the Pasis or the Scheduled Castes — all are involved in buying brides from other states.

Asha Devi, a 45-year-old widow from Kolkata, was bought as a wife by Brahmin widower Narayan Lal for Rs 10,000 — the “wedding fee” given to her son, she revealed — some five years ago. Asha Devi does go to Kolkata, where her son stays, once every two years. She may not be able to speak Hindi fluently but since Lal’s family is educated, they try to understand what she wants. “Here, I have no problems at all. Being a widow, I was rebuked back home. But now, I at least have a man who takes care of my needs,” says Asha.

Ram Lali (her maiden name was Anita) was bought by Ram Bhajan, a Baniya, from Kolkata four years ago for a “wedding fee” of Rs 10,000. She has four children and is happy that this marriage has saved her from a life of poverty. “The money my husband gave to my family has helped them survive. So it is not so bad for me,” says Ram Lali.

For the rest of the village, these “wives” are mere “arrangements”. Maheshwar, an elderly man in the village, said: “We know these women have been bought and proper ceremonies attached to marriage have not been performed. Hence, it is difficult for us to call them wives.” Mahindar, who bought Anita from Orissa, says, “I bought her from a man for Rs 7,500. She is satisfying all my needs and is also my children’s mother, but my relatives don’t like to call her my wife.”

Non Governmental organisations (NGOs) working on issues of maternal health and female foeticide in the village, say the declining sex ratio is indeed one of the major reasons behind bride buying. Sunil Singh of the Rahi Foundation, an NGO active in the district, said: “These women, who have been bought as wives, have no rights at all. They are brought here only as commodities and nothing else. One can also see that women are being trafficked here from states with high povertly like Orissa and West Bengal because their families need the money given in exchange.”

Dr Neelam Singh of Vatsalya, an NGO working across the state against female foeticide, feels strongly against the system of bride buying. “Women are being treated as machines that can be used to produce babies and satisfy sexual needs and they are being bought precisely for these reasons. Such practices have become commonplace because of the low sex ratio. The administration and government should ensure that social ills like female foeticide are eradicated so that the situation can change in the years to come.”


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Today’s Hidden Slave Trade

Published: October 27, 2007 New York Times

The woman testifying in federal court in Lower Manhattan could hardly have seemed more insignificant.

She was an immigrant from South Korea and a prostitute, who spoke little or no English. She worked, she said, in brothels in New York, Philadelphia, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

She did not offer a portrait of the good life. Speaking through an interpreter, she told about the time in D.C. when a guy came in who looked “like a mental patient, a psycho.” Weirded out, she wanted nothing to do with him. But she said the woman who ran the brothel assured her everything would be fine.

It was fine if you consider wrestling with Hannibal Lecter fine. The john clawed at this woman, gouging her flesh, peeling the skin from her back and other parts of her body. She was badly injured.

According to the government, the woman was caught up in a prostitution and trafficking network that ruthlessly exploited young Korean women, some of whom “were smuggled into the country illegally.”

In prior eras, the slave trade was conducted openly, with ads prominently posted and the slaves paraded and inspected like animals, often at public auctions. Today’s sex traffickers, the heirs to that tradition, try to keep their activities hidden, although the rest of the sex trade, the sale of the women’s services, is advertised on a scale that can only be characterized as colossal.

As a society, we’re repelled by the slavery of old. But the wholesale transport of women and girls across international borders and around the U.S. — to serve as prostitutes under conditions that in most cases are coercive at best — stirs very little outrage.

Leaf through the Yellow Pages in some American cities and you’ll find pages upon pages of ads: “Korean Girl, 18 — Affordable.” “Korean and Japanese Dolls — Full Service.” “Barely Legal China Doll — Pretty and Petite.”

The Internet and magazines have staggering numbers of similar ads. Thousands upon thousands of women have been brought here from Asia and elsewhere and funneled into the sex trade, joining those who are already here and in the business but unable to keep up with the ferocious demand.

This human merchandise — whether imported or domestic — is still paraded, inspected and treated like animals.

What’s important to keep in mind is the great extent to which the sex trade involves real slavery (kidnapping and rape), widespread physical abuse, indentured servitude, exploitation of minors and many other forms of coercion. This modern-day variation on the ancient theme of bondage flourishes largely because of the indifference of the rest of us, and the misogyny that holds fast to the view of women — all women — as sexual commodities.

The case in Manhattan federal court involves a ring that, according to prosecutors, used massage parlors and spas as fronts for prostitution. Some of the women were in the U.S. legally. Others, according to the government, were brought in by brokers (more accurately, traffickers or dealers in flesh), who provided false passports, visas and other documents.

Elie Honig, an assistant United States attorney, said women brought in illegally were pushed into prostitution to earn money “to pay back the tens of thousands of dollars that the brokers charged the women as quote, unquote, fees for bringing them into the United States.”

He told the jury: “We are talking about a regional network of businesses throughout the Northeast United States and beyond involved in transporting and selling women.”

A jury will decide whether the five defendants in this case — all Korean women, and accused of running a prostitution enterprise — are guilty. But the activities alleged by the government mirror the sexual trafficking and organized prostitution that is carried out on a vast scale here in the U.S. and around the world.

There is nothing benign about these activities. Upwards of 18,000 foreign nationals are believed to be trafficked into the U.S. each year. According to the State Department, 80 percent of trafficked people are women and children, an overwhelming majority of whom are trafficked for sexual purposes.

Those who think that most of the women in prostitution want to be there are deluded. Surveys consistently show that a majority wants very much to leave. Apologists love to spread the fantasy of the happy hooker. But the world of the prostitute is typically filled with pimps, sadists, psychopaths, drug addicts, violent criminals and disease.

Jody Williams is a former prostitute who runs a support group called Sex Workers Anonymous. Few women want to become prostitutes, she told me, and nearly all would like to get out.

“They want to quit for the obvious reasons,” she said. “The danger. The physical and emotional distress. The toll that it takes. The shame.”